Incidence and Spectrum of Health Problems Among Travelers to Laos


Corresponding Author: Watcharapong Piyaphanee, MD, Department of Clinical Tropical Medicine, Faculty of Tropical Medicine, Mahidol University, 420/6 Ratchawithi Rd, Ratchathewi, Bangkok 10400, Thailand. E-mail:



The number of travelers visiting Laos has more than doubled in the last 5 years. Little is known about their pre-travel preparations and the incidence of health problems during their trips.


At three border posts between Laos and Thailand, travelers were invited to complete a study questionnaire. They were asked about their demographic profile, travel characteristics, pre-travel health preparations, and health problems during their stay in Laos.


From September 2011 to April 2012, 1,205 questionnaires from Thais and 1,191 from foreigners were collected. Approximately 60% of the travelers were male; the overall median age among the Thais was 43 years, and among the foreigners was 32 years. Most foreign visitors were from Europe (66.8%), followed by other Asian countries (19.0%) and North America (7.1%). Almost half of the foreigners (47.8%) traveled as individual backpackers, whereas the majority of Thais traveled as package tourists. Foreigners were more likely to trek, cycle, and swim during their trips. There were also significant differences in the average length of stay between foreigners (16.1 days) and Thais (3.8 days, p < 0.001). Health problems were reported in 24.9% of foreigners, the most common being diarrhea, cough, animal exposure, and fever. Only 6.1% of Thais reported health problems, the most common being cough and diarrhea. The relative risk adjusted for duration of stay was 1.63 (95% confidence interval: 1.01–2.64). Occurrence of health problems was associated with younger age group, non-Asian nationality, length of stay, and participation in adventurous activities.


Health problems are rather frequent among non-Thai travelers in contrast to Thais during their trips to Lao People's Democratic Republic. There were significant differences in terms of risk profile and prevalence of health problems between these two groups.